BATON ROUGE, LA — It took the Florida Gators more than 15 minutes to knock down their first three-point shot Saturday and it wasn’t until there was 1:37 remaining in the game before they hit another one. Miserable three-point shooting isn’t the only reason the third-ranked Gators went in the tank against unranked LSU but it’s indicative of the kind of afternoon it was.
For the second straight Saturday with a CBS national television audience watching, the Gators just didn’t have it. Offensively there were no answers, just cold shooting from the outside and not enough good looks on the inside because of too many lazy, careless passes. Defensively there were only slow feet and after the fact reactions. A week ago, the Gators made Vanderbilt look like world beaters. Vandy shot 57 percent to take out the Gators by 13 points. LSU got way too many easy shots or wide open looks from the outside and the Tigers responded with 51.1 percent shooting as they handed the Gators a 66-56 whipping at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
That it took until 4:26 remained in the first half for Florida to finally knock down its first three tells much of the story. Corey Brewer’s three-pointer was only the fourth attempt the Gators launched from behind the arc. Florida didn’t even attempt a three-pointer until Lee Humphrey launched an unsuccessful shot with 11:29 remaining. By then, LSU had already built a 10-point lead, 22-12.
The Gators were 1-7 from the three-point line in the first half and 0-8 in the second half when Humphrey finally got one to go with 1:37 left. For the game, Florida finished 2-17, by far their worst three-point shooting effort of the season.
While three-point shooting is only a part of this story, the Gators inability to hit outside shots the last five games has contributed mightily to what can only be viewed as a late-season slump. Since a 5-9 three-point shooting effort against Georgia in Athens, the Gators are 22-83 from the three-point stripe in their last five games.
With no outside game to speak of, the Gators needed to come up with a dominating inside game against LSU, particularly since the Tigers — just 1-9 in their previous 10 games — were playing without Glen Davis, the 6-9, 290-pound inside force that keys their offense. Instead of dominating on the inside, the Gators were outrebounded 35-22.
The first half rebounding stats are most revealing. After Al Horford grabbed an offensive rebound with 18:42 left in the half, the Gators were one and done the rest of the way. LSU, meanwhile, grabbed six first half offensive rebounds and that was critical in the Tigers’ run to a 34-21 lead at the break.
LSU seemed to grab up every loose ball and when the ball came off the rim, it seemed the Tigers were leaping out of the gym to grab possession while the Gators feet seemed glued to the floor.
Horford turned in a decent game with 13 points and nine rebounds and Chris Richard gave the Gators another good game off the bench with 12 points on 6-7 shooting, but he only got one rebound. Joakim Noah managed only four points and two rebounds. He averages more than 12 points and eight rebounds per game.
Where the Tigers had the huge advantage was in the backcourt matchups. Instead of erratic play from Garrett Temple and Terry Martin, the Tigers were rock steady. Florida’s Taurean Green and Humphrey neither had the shooting touch or the floor game to match.
Temple came into the game averaging 8.7 points per game and Martin was knocking down 10.7 per game but Florida had no defensive answers for them Saturday. Temple scored nine of LSU’s first 19 points and he finished the game with 17. Martin torched the Gators for 18. While Temple ignited the early explosion for LSU, Martin was the finisher down the stretch, hitting several critical shots to keep the Gators from making a closing run.
Green and Humphrey combined for their second straight sub-par game. Green was 0-6 from the field against South Carolina Wednesday while Humphrey was 2-6. Against LSU, Green was 1-7 from the field and 0-3 on three-pointers. Humphrey was 2-7 from the field against the Tigers and all five of his points came in the final 1:37 of the game. Green and Humphrey average a combined 23 points per game.
It would be easy to attribute the sub-par play by the Gators to the after effects of winning the Southeastern Conference championship at home back on Wednesday, but this was Florida’s fifth straight game where there has been little help from the outside to loosen things up on the inside. When the Gators have it going on the outside, they dominate on the inside and average close to 80 points per game. They’ve scored 63 and 56 points in their last two games.
It was Green’s third straight game under 10 points. Since scoring 20 against Alabama, he’s 1-8 from the three-point stripe and has 19 combined points.
Since a 3-3 effort from the three-point stripe against Georgia, Humphrey is 9-32 from the stripe. He’s scored 31 points combined in the last five games.
While Humphrey and Green are going through some shooting woes, it isn’t fair to blame Florida’s mini-slump on their inability to find some consistency from the outside. Shots come and shots go, but teams still can compensate with rebounding and defense. Florida had a bad shooting game against South Carolina back on Wednesday but the defense and rebounding more than made up for any lack of scoring punch. Against LSU, the Gators couldn’t shoot, didn’t defend and they definitely didn’t rebound.
Florida went through a mini-slump about this time last year and it’s not unusual for good teams to have stretches of the season when shots won’t fall and they look out of synch. The Gators found their legs and renewed energy last year after a loss in Tuscaloosa to Alabama.
They need to find what’s missing quickly. They’re at Tennessee Tuesday night and the Vols not only haven’t lost a home game this year, but they need a signature win to assure a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Then there’s Big Blue. Kentucky comes to town next Sunday, the last regular season game of the year and Florida’s senior day. The Gators can ill afford to lose the next two games. They’re 25-4 now, certain at the moment of a number one seed but that could change in the next two games. Just because the Gators have clinched the SEC title doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to play for.
The losses at Vandy and at LSU put a load of pressure on Florida’s shoulders and it’s pressure the Gators really don’t need. They’re already the team that everybody wants to beat since they took the NCAA title last April. Now they’re in a position that they need a couple of wins in the worst way. They don’t have to worry about getting into the tournament but that number one seed is a boost they definitely need.
The only way they’ll clinch that number one seed is to find a way to break out of the slump. They did it last year after losing to Alabama in their 14th SEC game. Saturday’s loss to LSU was in Florida’s 14th SEC game. It would be a good time for the Gators to stage a duplication of what happened at this time last year.